Netflix releases so many shows. Keeping up with each one has become impossible; you’d stream your life away if you tried. But a few Netflix Original shows in 2018 have risen above the others and are well worth your time.
The collection below includes scripted shows, a reality show, a documentary series and a talk show with fantastic sketches. Netflix has really diversified the types of content it offers in 2018, and these standout shows reflect that.
A few weeks ago, Streamline rounded up the most underrated Netflix Originals of the year so far. That list included great shows that somehow have remained niche in terms of audience, had cancellation scares or didn’t earn Emmy consideration. Those shows ― “One Day at a Time,” “Collateral,” “Aggretsuko,” “Dear White People” and “Ugly Delicious” ― are not featured in this article but may ultimately make the Best of 2018 list later this year.
Read about the highlights of 2018 thus far below.
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Streamline makes recommendations for streaming shows and movies. Every Saturday, Streamline highlights the best shows to watch online, with a focus on Netflix.
Premise: Five gay men transform lives across Georgia. Although the routine has some variance, this team typically gives the full-life makeover to a straight, male schlub. The “Queer Eye” guys specialize in five separate fields: home design, beauty, fashion, culture and food.
Value: A tear-jerker through and through.
Netflix released not one but two seasons of “Queer Eye” in the first half of 2018 (although each season only had a few episodes). The new cast definitely established the reboot as a worthy successor to the show that originally debuted in 2003.
The show does a good job balancing the formulaic nature of the makeovers with moments of authentic emotion unique to each episode. The transformations basically just make the targets look like rich people, but the journey to get there repeatedly delights.
“The End of the F***ing World”
Premise: Two teens decide to run away from home together and quickly get into misadventures. Instead of falling into quirky love story tropes, the couple has to deal with traumatizing problems of great magnitude. All the while, they each have emotional baggage to sort through and try to mature beyond.
Value: This show came out of nowhere both narratively and marketing-wise.
“It was astounding how popular it was for us,” Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said to New York Magazine for a profile on the company released earlier this year. Internal forecasting for the show predicted the show’s audience would be far more niche. “On one level, it was a massive failure that we didn’t see that coming.”
The trailer alone has garnered over 10 million views, much more than most Netflix shows. The absurdity and dark humor of this story must feel refreshing amid an ocean of shows playing things safe these days. The show takes real risks that could have riled up protesters or at least caused people to turn this off, but strong performances ultimately won over viewers.
“Wild Wild Country”
Premise: A documentary series about the rise of the Rajneesh movement in Oregon. The first couple of episodes focus on the radically contemporary teachings of the leader as he preaches peace and harmony. Then the story takes a turn and focuses on political intrigue within the group.
Value: The rare documentary that features a subject so compelling and has such incredibly high stakes that you think the filmmakers must have made everything up.
The Rajneesh story ― a fringe community attempts to establish an American home ― is full of fascinating details. The group only wore shades of red and white. Certain members had ambitions to conquer the world and were willing to do anything to accomplish that. The leader encouraged the followers to have sex and they did ... a lot.
By the end, you become unsure whether you should condemn the group or join it. Although this community never took off as planned, the series inherently recontextualizes the other religions that dominate American life and therefore forces a re-examination of life itself.
“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
Premise: Now adjusted to the basics of life outside the bunker, Kimmy Schmidt must learn how to thrive in a traditional work setting. Titus Andromedon tries to become a star, while Jacqueline Voorhes manages him. Schmidt’s original captor garners sympathy through a true-crime documentary that advocates for setting him free.
Value: This fourth season finally settles onto firm and fertile ground.
Earlier seasons of this show focused on Kimmy’s naiveté about the world around her. She rose from a life trapped in a bunker into a life defined by constant mishaps and mistakes. The show gleaned humor from this, but this bumbling role often became tiresome. Crazy jokes in a crazy world fell flat.
But in these new episodes, Kimmy (both the show and character) graduated to competence and sanity. As the world in the show starts making more sense, the jokes shine through as moments of absurdity. If you gave up on the first few seasons, consider returning for these new episodes.
Premise: The “Glow” team tries to achieve television success. Sexism and harassment become major hurdles. The low pay and tough work weigh on the wrestlers, and everyone must decide whether this adventure remains worthwhile.
Value: A period piece that can heavily lean into camp and cheap thrills, while also offering nuanced portrayals of struggle.
Professional wrestling already has a ridiculous premise, what with the fake fights, the costumes and the melodrama. “Glow” uses that backdrop and then makes the “behind the scenes” the, well, scenes.
“Glow” highlights the pain that goes into the fun. This balance makes the show both an enjoyable watch and a show that can gut-punch you at any moment.
Premise: Mickey Dobbs and Gus Cruikshank enter a new phase of their relationship. Both have matured considerably, and they become ready to make longer-term commitments. They must decide if they found “the one” in each other.
Value: The third and final season finally calibrated the characters to be both realistic and entertaining.
Seasons one and two of “Love” had potential but hardly rose above mediocrity. The characters acted nonsensically and jokes often didn’t land. The show had winning qualities ― such as the chemistry between Mickey and Gus, the detailed careers each character pursued and the wonderful roommate character, Bertie ― but that didn’t add up to enough. Season 3 finally became more than the sum of its parts.
In this season, the show veered into the ensemble comedy realm and gleaned better, funnier jokes from the wacky characters surrounding Gus and Mickey. But the show also took a half-step back to focus on the underlying desires and fears of each character, taking time to establish clear motivations. As plot points culminate, you finally cheer for the characters rather than feel indifferent.
“The Break with Michelle Wolf”
Premise: A talk show with standup and sketches. Michelle Wolf and her cast satirize the news, modern issues and other talk shows. Netflix releases a new episode every Sunday.
Value: A Netflix talk show finally feels relevant and a part of the zeitgeist.
Wolf started the promotion cycle for this show by performing at the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner. As you may remember, conservatives attacked her, claiming Wolf viciously criticized the physical appearance of White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders when she simply didn’t do that. In any case, the media coverage surrounding the controversy helped Wolf get the word out about her new talk show.
The show quickly earned this attention. The sketches, in particular, have shined, rivaling the best of “Saturday Night Live,” “Inside Amy Schumer” and other shows that focus on cultural commentary. Wolf clearly has a unique and incisive take on the world, which makes the show worth watching every week.